A developer who wants to build a boutique hotel on Bayou Bernard won’t be getting as much help from Harrison County as he had hoped.
Laurence Leyens of Urban Development in Ocean Springs asked the Board of Supervisors to set a public hearing on a tax increment financing plan for the project along Sundown Circle, just off Mississippi 605 on the north side of the bayou.
He was representing Jacques Pucheu of Sundown Circle Development in Gulfport, who wanted the county to approve up to $2.5 million in tax increment financing bonds and pledge up to 100 percent of the increase in property taxes generated by the project to pay for infrastructure and buy land.
The supervisors decided the county would kick in up to 50 percent of the taxes but no more.
According to the proposal, Sundown Circle would build 15 waterfront homes, waterfront townhouses, a marina, a boutique hotel, restaurants and retail and commercial office space on about 23 acres it describes as a “blighted industrial area.”
The proposal said the “total investment potential” of the project was $33.5 million. Initially, though, the plan is for the homes, townhouses and residential marina to be built with an initial investment of $17 million.
Normally, the city where the TIF project is being built pledges some of its share of property taxes as well.
Conflict of interest
In this case, according to Leyens, the city of Gulfport couldn’t offer any financial assistance because Pucheu is the husband of Councilwoman Cara Pucheu.
About all the city could offer, said Leyens, is a letter of support.
“Naturally they’ll support it,” said Supervisor Marlin Ladner. “I think the board needs to make a decision. Why have a public hearing if we’re not going to issue the bonds?”
Ladner wanted to commit only 50 percent of the county’s taxes to the plan.
“We have never agreed to commit more than 50 percent,” he said. “I cannot go along with 100 percent.”
Pucheu said he’d be happy with whatever he could get.
The county agreed to the hearing with the understanding it would pledge no more than 50 percent of the taxes.
There are objections
But the project faces other obstacles.
While Pucheu said the city has approved the rezoning of the property, the Planning Commission unanimously approved it, he has building permits, and the Department of Marine Resources has issued a permit for the waterfront part of the plan, the rezoning is tied up in court.
Several homeonwers in a high-end neighborhood near the proposed project site are fighting the rezoning. Their appeal is pending in circuit court.
There's always controversy when people own property and they don't like their view changed.
Developer Jacques Pucheu
“There has been some controversy about this particular development, I understand,” said Supervisor Connie Rockco.
“There’s always controversy when people own property and they don’t like their view changed,” said Pucheu. “I’m sure your Planning Department and Planning Commission go through it every day.”
Anyone with an objection can lodge it at the public hearing, said Leyens. The board set that hearing for 10 a.m. Jan. 3 at the county courthouse in Biloxi.